KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes sees the same thing as everyone else when he watches the Green Bay Packers' Aaron Rodgers play: one of the NFL's all-time great quarterbacks.
He also sees a cautionary tale in terms of his own career. Rodgers, like Mahomes, won a Super Bowl championship early in his career but has been shut out since.
"It's not about one guy in this sport," Mahomes said Wednesday. "It's about a team. I think Tom [Brady] kind of fools everybody because he's won so many Super Bowls, but it's a hard deal to win Super Bowls in this league. It's the best of the best.
"Every single year everybody is getting better. Everybody is bringing in new guys that have that hunger to try to go get it. Aaron is the best of the best and he's played on a lot of great football teams, but you have to have stuff go your way and I understand that. This season is telling that it's not going to be every season that you're coming in and winning every single game. You have to battle through adversity to try to be on top."
A decade ago, Rodgers was in a similar spot as Mahomes today. He was 27 years old in the winter of 2011 when he quarterbacked the Packers to a Super Bowl championship. It was widely assumed at the time Rodgers would win many more titles. Even Rodgers -- the day after the Packers' Super Bowl victory -- said he was looking forward to going after more.
"I always look for challenges," he said then. "The challenge goes to repeating. We've got one, so now what? Let's go get another one."
Rodgers and the Packers haven't been back to the Super Bowl since.
Mahomes and Rodgers won't get their first on-field matchup on Sunday when the Chiefs face the Packers at Arrowhead Stadium (4:25 p.m. ET, Fox). Rodgers will miss the game after testing positive this week for COVID-19.
But Rodgers will presumably be back later in the season to rejoin Mahomes in the hunt for another Super Bowl victory. Still, nothing is promised to either player.
Eli Manning retired last year from the New York Giants as one of a handful of quarterbacks from recent seasons to have won a pair of Super Bowl championships. Brady and Ben Roethlisberger are the only active quarterbacks with more than one title.
Manning said recently that when he looks back on both championships, he recalls how close the Giants were to not getting either title. The Giants won both of their Super Bowl games against the New England Patriots after making big fourth-quarter plays and scoring late touchdowns.
"We were close to not making the playoffs in both of those years," Manning said. "So your career can be defined by plays early in the regular season that end up getting you in the playoffs. That can determine whether you win a Super Bowl or not. Then we got into the Super Bowl and we were down in both games in the fourth quarter and we needed a helmet catch in one and an amazing catch on the sideline to put you in position to win those games. A lot of things have to go your way.
"The championships go beyond one player and quarterback play. It's a whole team thing and getting critical stops and other guys stepping up to make plays at big moments. Then you need the quarterbacks playing well, but you've got to have those opportunities to do that."
Mahomes threw 50 touchdown passes and for more than 5,000 yards in 2018, his first season as a starter. He led the Chiefs to the AFC Championship Game, where they lost in overtime to Brady and the Patriots.
The Chiefs' first Super Bowl title in 50 years followed the next season, when Mahomes was just 24 years old. The Chiefs made a repeat appearance in the Super Bowl last season, but they lost to Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
It was widely assumed during this three-year run that Mahomes would eventually win a fistful of rings and the Chiefs would have a dynasty. This talk was driven not just by their fans but by the Chiefs as well.
In the summer of 2020, defensive tackle Chris Jones predicted the Chiefs would win "five-plus” championships, adding, "It's time to build a dynasty." Wide receiver Tyreek Hill suggested Jones was limiting the Chiefs' possibilities and predicted seven more titles.
The Chiefs signed Mahomes to a contract extension in the summer after they won their title. Mahomes agreed to a team-friendly contract that in theory would leave the Chiefs the salary-cap resources for years to build a championship-caliber team around him.
"They wanted protections for Pat, but they also wanted to make sure Pat was surrounded by talent," Chiefs general manager Brett Veach said of Mahomes' agents at the time of the signing. "Pat is a long-term thinker, and Pat understands the long game here.
"Pat wants to win, he wants to start a dynasty and he wants to do all those things here in Kansas City."
Last year the Chiefs appeared poised to win a second straight championship before their offensive line collapsed in the Super Bowl loss. They fixed their O-line during the offseason, but now their defense has turned into one of the worst in the NFL and the Chiefs are a disappointing 4-4. They hardly seem like serious Super Bowl contenders and instead appear more in need of a roster refresh, particularly on defense.
Veach and the Chiefs will no doubt work on that in the offseason, but inevitably some other issue will arise. It's the nature of the NFL.
That's why where it once appeared unthinkable that Mahomes would be one and done when it came to Super Bowl championships, it now looks more reasonable in light of what has happened with Rodgers and the Packers.
"He's so young," Manning said of 26-year-old Mahomes. "He's got so many more years. He's going to continue to grow as a player and learn and get better. I see him playing well, making playoff runs. But you don't know when it's going to be their year, when you just have something special and the guys around you step up in those big moments and you find a way to win it.
"He's got a long career ahead of him. I imagine he'll have more Super Bowls ahead of him, but you don't know. Even as good as he is, it's still about the team and everything coming together. I see him as one of those guys who's constantly in the playoffs, but from there it's somewhat out of his hands. It's about the team coming together and making it happen."